How much is a cord of wood? How big is it and what are its dimensions? What is the difference between a full and face cord? What are the best types of wood to burn and where can you buy it? These are just a few questions we will be answering in this article.
One of the many reasons people invest in a chainsaw is to cut their own firewood. In this article we’re going to take a look at the ins and outs of cutting your own as well as buying it if you aren’t too enthusiastic about the do-it-yourself approach. So, let’s start at the beginning.
What is a cord of wood?
Basically, a cord is a unit if measurement used to measure firewood and pulpwood both in Canada and the United States. Pulpwood is simply timber converted into pulp for making paper, but we are only really interested in how it relates to firewood in this article.
In the United States, a cord is legally defined by statute in most states.
What is a rick of wood?
You may have heard the term ‘rick’ in relation to wood. A rick of wood is another term for ‘face cord’, which is slightly different to a full cord (referred to as just a cord). Which brings us onto…….
Difference between a full cord and a face cord of wood
A cord (also referred to as a ‘full cord’) is an amount of firewood that would fill a space which measures 8 feet long by 4 feet high by 4 feet deep. In a full cord the standard length of a piece of firewood is 16 inches long and they are staked in 3 rows.
A ‘face cord’ also measures 8 feet long by 4 feet high but there is no standard depth. It is arranged in a single stack and unlike the ‘full’ type, the length of the pieces vary and there is no standard. A ‘face’ or ‘rick’ will therefore be approximately 1/3 the size of a full cord.
Are there any other measurements?
Yes. You can buy ½ and ¼ cords, as well as in bundles and bushels.
If you’re wondering how to figure a cord of wood and other measurements, the table below provides some dimensions and should provide you with some guidance in this regard.
Measurement when stacked
4' x 4' x 8'
4' x 4' x 4'
Face Cord (1/3 Cord)
4' x 8' x 16" (Log length)
Quarter Cord (1/4 Cord)
4' x 6' x 16" (Log length)
Gas Station/Supermarket Bundle
How much is a cord of wood?
The cost is likely to vary depending on where you live and the time of year it is purchased. In winter it’s likely you will need to pay more so planning well in advance could save you money.
You will find plenty of reputable local firewood dealers in your area, all with websites which publish their prices. Many will provide a description of the wood (type, whether seasoned, cut lengths). Take care that you are comparing ‘like with like’. For example, some dealers may quote for a face cord and others for a full cord, so if the quote is for $60 per face, the actual cost of a full cord is $180.
Prices change on a regular basis, but below are some typical prices you would expect to pay as at June 2017:
Massachusetts: Cord of mixed, seasoned hardwood - ready to burn $350
Wisconsin: Full cord mixed hardwood kiln dried - $310. Oak Mix $410.
Seattle: Full cord of seasoned mixed hardwood (delivered and split) $600 + tax. Full cord of conifer (softwood) $450 + tax.
Denver: A cord of premium seasoned hardwood $350. Cord of seasoned Pine $225.
Austin, Texas: Full cord of split seasoned firewood ($395)
There are ways of getting your firewood much cheaper or even for free in some cases. Cutting your own is a good way of keeping the costs down and we discuss this in more detail later.
There are plenty of people who take down trees and want somebody to take it away so put it on Craigslist. Obviously you’ll need a pick-up and in many cases you’ll find it cut into stove length pieces. It may not be the exact type of wood you want and it will likely require drying out but if it doesn’t cost you anything what have you got to lose? To take advantage, you’ll probably need to move quickly.
In some areas you will also find local tree cutting services who may have surplus wood they are trying to get rid of. In some parts of the country, tree cutters have to pay to have wood taken away so are more than happy to deliver it to your home. You will then need to split, stack and dry out it out. In other parts of the country you will find that wood is valuable so you won’t be able to take advantage of this.
Best type of wood to use – Hardwood or Softwood
When it comes to choosing the right type to use, there are a number of factors which should be taken into consideration. Hardwoods like Oak are denser than softwoods. They tend to burn hotter for longer and create very little soot, which makes them ideal for fires. Softwoods, such as deciduous pine trees, aren’t as good as they don’t burn as hot and often produce a lot of resins and soot which can clog your fire.
That said, if you enjoy a crackling fire and want something fast burning then softwoods, such as the Douglas Pine, Spruce and Cedars will fit the bill. Below I’ve included details about some of the most popular types. The BTU (British thermal unit) rating is the standard measurement used to record the heat output and the number quoted is the heat per cord (million). Basically, the BTU is defined as the amount of thermal energy it takes to raise one pound of water 1 degree F. The higher the number means the greater the heat output. For comparison purposes, anthracite coal has a BTU rating of 28 per ton.
Alder: Hardwood. Creates a hot fire but burns quickly. Wet alder smokes and leaves a lot of ash so needs to be seasoned. Firewood suitability: Fair. BTU Rating: 19.5
Almond: Hardwood. Similar to Oak in that it creates a hot and long lasting fire. Doesn’t leave a lot of ash. Needs a year to be seasoned and can be hard to find. Suitability: Excellent. BTU Rating 32.9
Apple: Hardwood. Produces a hot fire and has a good burn time when dry. Suitability: Good. BTU Rating: 25.8
White Ash: Hardwood. Has low moisture content so can be used soon after harvesting. Creates a hot fire (though not quite as hot as some trees such as Oak) with good burn time. A popular choice. Suitability: Very Good. BTU Rating: 23.6
Basswood: Hardwood. Burns quickly and doesn’t produce as much heat as other hardwoods (though still hot). Can be easily cut and the fire will be easier to start, making it a better choice for a campfire than burning in the home. Suitability: Fair. BTU Rating 13.5
Beech: Hardwood. Burns hot and slowly. Does not burn well when green so it needs seasoning. A good choice for home burning. Suitability: Very Good. BTU Rating 24-26 Depending on type.
Birch: Hardwood. Doesn’t produce as much heat as other hardwoods but does burn for quite a while. Suitability Good. BTU Rating: 20-26 depending on type.
Cherry: Hardwood. Reasonably popular choice. Provides a moderate heat and has good burn time. Can spark more than other hardwoods so care needed when used in open fire. It is easy to split and has a pleasant aroma but needs to be seasoned before use. Suitability: Good. BTU Rating 20.0
Chestnut: Has a low heat output and a small flame. Not popular. Suitability: Poor. BTU Rating 12.9
Dogwood: Hardwood. Has a high heat output and good burn time. Suitability: Very Good. BTU Rating 30.4
Douglas fir: Softwood. Provide a modest heat content but burns quite quickly. Produces some sparks. Needs to season for around 1 year but it is a popular choice, especially in areas where the trees are abundant. Suitability: Fair. BTU Rating 17.4
Elm: Hardwood. Has a high moisture content so needs to season for several years. Moderate heat and reasonable burn time. Suitability: Fair. BTU Rating 19.5
Eucalyptus: Hardwood. Produces a high heat but burns quickly. Leaves an oily deposit residue on the inside of the chimney which is very difficult to remove. Not, therefore, ideal for home burning. Suitability: Poor. BTU Rating 34.5
Hard Maple: Hardwood. Produces good heat output and a long burn time. Suitability: Very good. BTU Rating: 20 - 24
Hawthorn: A popular firewood which burns hot and slow. Suitability: Very Good. BTU Rating
Hickory: Hardwood. Burns hot and stays burning for a long time. For best results should be seasoned for 1 year. Suitability: Excellent BTU Rating 27.7
Holly: Can be burned when green (though better when seasoned). Modest heat but burns quickly with a good flame. Suitability: Fair BTU 17.5
Hornbeam: Burns slowly and produces good heat. Suitability: Very Good. BTU Rating 27.3
Laburnum: Burns poorly and produces a lot of smoke. Suitability: Poor. BTU Rating – Not rated
Larch: Produces a reasonable heat however needs to be well seasoned. Can spit quite a lot and leave a residue on the chimney. Suitability: Fair BTU 22.3
Laurel: Burns well with a good flame but only produces a moderate heat output. Needs to be well seasoned. Suitability: Fair
Pine: Softwood. Produces moderate heat but burns well. Very sappy and lots of resin which can lead to creosote build-up inside the chimney. Not recommended for regular use indoors unless using as kindling to start the fire. Suitability: Poor. BTU Rating 14-20
Poplar (Aspen/Cottonwood): A very light, moderate heat wood which burns fast. Can smoke and pop more than other woods. Not really recommended for indoor use. Suitability: Fair BTU Rating 16-18
Red Oak: Hardwood. Produces a small flame with good heat and excellent burn time. Requires to be season for 1-2 years. Doesn’t smoke or throw sparks and is easy to split. Suitability: Excellent. BTU Rating 24.6
Spruce: Burns quickly and produces low heat output. Produces smoke and can spark. Suitability: Poor. BTU Rating 14-19
Sycamore: Hardwood. Average heat output with reasonable burn time. Good for kindling but needs to be seasoned. Suitability: Fair. BTU Rating 19.1
Willow: Wood burns quickly compared to better hardwoods. Produces moderate heat output and needs to be seasoned. Lot of work involved felling and splitting for the return. Suitability: Fair. BTU Rating 17.4.
White oak: Hardwood. See Red Oak for comments. Suitabiity: Excellent BTU Rating 26.4
One thing you should note is that different types of wood will produce different smells when burning. You may, for example, find that a pine tree smell is a little overwhelming. Some of the most pleasant smells are produced by apple, cherry, pear and hickory but there are others and it’s all down to personal preference.
How much firewood do I need?
This question really depends on how often you are likely to be using your fire or stove. If you are only using wood in the fireplace a couple of times per week you may find that a full cord is a bit excessive and either a face, ½ or ¼ would be more appropriate. If, like my family, you like to have the fire going a lot you may wish to opt for a larger size.
If you are using wood to burn in a stove and home furnace as well, you may need a number of cords depending on how cold a climate you live in. For a well-insulated home with an efficient wood-burning stove which is the only heating appliance, then 4 cords should be suffice. However, if you live in a cold climate I would always recommend getting more until you have experienced exactly how much you will use each season – six or seven if necessary. Good wood will keep well if properly stored and indeed will actually burn better the longer it has been allowed to season so any unused supplies won’t go to waste.
Where can I buy firewood?
If you’re looking to buy your firewood instead of cutting your own, you’ll find plenty of places close to where you live which will be able to supply you. If you need only small amounts, for example a bundle, then you can buy from Lowes or Walmart.
For larger supplies, there will be plenty of specialist dealers in your area. Just type “where can I buy firewood” + your location into Google and you’ll get plenty of options.
On a final note, you should be aware that there are restrictions about moving firewood between states. For example, it is illegal to bring firewood into Oregon from outside the Pacific North West. You will find a handy interactive map at https://www.dontmovefirewood.org/map/oregon/ . Just click on your State to confirm any possible restrictions.
When it comes to getting your firewood, here are a few things you should consider:
• Although vendors sell all year round, prices will tend to be higher in winter. It is better, therefore, to plan ahead. Ideally you should be getting your winter supplies in spring or early summer.
• Make sure you do your research. It’s important that you get the right type (bearing in mind that not all varieties will be available in your area). You can check the section above for more information about the types of wood and their suitability, but whatever type you choose make sure it is ready to burn. To get an efficient, low smoke fire, the firewood should have been seasoned for at least six months so that its moisture content will be around 20%. If you get some bundles from a supermarket or gas station, the wood should be allowed to dry out before use.
• Get the right wood. In general, hardwoods tend to burn for longer so you will get more value for your money than buying softwoods. Hardwoods also leave less creosote in the chimney, which can become a fire hazard if not cleaned on a regular basis.
• Avoid getting scammed. Nobody likes getting ripped-off but all manner of firewood selling scams occur each winter. Anyone with a chainsaw and pick-up can pass themselves off as a firewood dealer so take care. You should buy only from a reputable dealer. And get a receipt. (No reputable dealer will object to this). Ask the vendor to stack it for you. You will likely have to pay more for this service but at least you will be able to measure the stack dimensions. Watch out for loose stacking (a favorite scam), which can result in a shortfall of up to 20%.
• Make sure you get what you pay for. Cord dimensions were mentioned above so make sure you are not paying full cord prices for a face cord of wood. Ask the vendor for written confirmation of the wood type. As hardwoods are denser a simple heft test may help. Some softwoods have a scent of pine. Well-seasoned woods have radial cracks and are grayish at the end.
Cutting your own firewood
If you don’t own a large plot of land full of trees, then you will need to source your wood elsewhere.
Every National Forest Ranger District has its own firewood policy. Permits are often issued to allow people to cut wood in certain areas under certain conditions. The cost is usually around $10-$25 per cord and you will need your own transport and chainsaw. You can find your nearest National Forest HERE.
Many states have their own cutting programs which allow cutting on public land. For example, in Connecticut, permits are issued by lottery. In New Jersey, you can obtain a permit to cut wood at $20 per cord. Many other states have their own individual arrangements.
Interestingly, even as far back as the early eighties, well over a half million permits were issued by the Forest Service to cut firewood on public land and almost 3 million cords were cut.
So, the first thing you need to consider is the type of tree to be cut. Depending where you live you may not get much choice about the type of tree but as you can see in the video below, there are ways of deciding which trees will make good firewood and which ones will cause you problems. You don’t after all, want to bring a lot of dead timber, full of bugs into your home.
Having decided on the tree, it needs to be felled and bucked (cutting it into lengths), which is where your chainsaw comes into use. You can read more about this in our article. It’s important that the wood is cut into uniform sizes to help with stacking and the video below provides some great tips for doing this.
The key points are:
• Make sure you prepare your work area away from people, with enough room to swing your axe.
• Measure up as mentioned earlier to cut the wood into rounds which are the desired length for splitting.
• Use the right techniques as shown.
• Use wedges to split larger rounds.
• Always use protective work gear and eye wear to protect against flying debris.
Stacking and Storage
Having split your firewood, you need to ensure that it is properly stacked and stored.
When it comes to stacking there are a couple of options. Depending on how much you have, a pre-built rack will make this job much easier. This should be sturdy enough to hold the wood as well as keeping it off the ground, as shown below.
Whatever stacking option is chosen, if storage is outdoors, the area should have good drainage so that water doesn’t pool around the wood.
The video above shows the proper technique, with the key points being:
• Keep the wood off the ground and use treated lumber on the base.
• Ensure that there is plenty of air between each log so that they can breathe.
• Keep the stack stable by keeping the ends of the wood as even as possible.
Having stacked the timber it needs to be properly stored. Freshly cut wood needs at least six months to dry out (season) before it is suitable to use. Wood which you have just cut will have around 100% moisture content, meaning half of its weight is water. Ideally, this moisture content needs to be reduced to around 20% for best burning state.
The video above shows how to properly store the wood, with key points being:
• Keep the wood covered whilst still allowing air to get into the pile.
• Bark acts as a barrier to moisture so if a lot of rain is expected, arrange the pieces bark side up.
• If there is a lot of ground moisture from snow or rain, arrange the wood bark side down.
A few examples of firewood racks are shown below. These vary in prices to suit most budgets and requirements.
Whether you are buying or cutting your own firewood, there are some useful pieces of equipment to help you. We start with the most obvious:
If you are planning on going into the woods to cut some firewood you need to have the right chainsaw. Having a corded electric saw, for example, isn’t likely to be of much use unless you have a generator!
If you’re planning on doing some serious cutting, then a gas powered saw is the way to go. Models like the Husqvarna 455 and 460 Rancher, the Remington RM5115R Rodeo and Timberpro 62cc are all examples of powerful homeowner saws capable of some pretty heavy duty cutting. You can check out a full list in our Compare Chainsaws section.
If you only have a modest amount of wood to cut you could also consider a top end battery saw like the Ego Power+ 56V, GreenWorks Pro GCS80420 or the Oregon CS300-A6.
As I mentioned earlier in this article the wood needs to be properly seasoned and its moisture content around 20% for best burning. You will get an indication that it is ready because it will turn grey, will be much lighter and make a high pitched sound when banged together. To make absolutely sure, you can pick up a moisture meter for as little as $10.
A better quality meter, like the MMD4E Digital Moisture Meter, pictured on the right will still cost less than $25.
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MMD4E Moisture Meter
Wood splitting axe/maul
Once you have your timber cut into rounds, it will then need to be split using an axe/maul. These vary in size, weight and price but you can pick up a decent quality tool for well under a $100.
For larger rounds, you will need a wedge as shown below. These cost around $15.
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Estwing E3-FF4 4-Pound "Fireside Friend"
Estwing E-5 Sure Split Wedge
Firewood Transportation and Storage
When it comes to transporting your firewood, you may find a carrier or cart useful. Typical examples are shown below. The carrier costs in the region of $25 and the cart $40.
If storing outdoors you will need to ensure that your supplies are properly covered. If you don’t have a suitable tarpaulin, then a cover, as shown below can be bought for around $30.
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Premium Heavy Duty Log Rack Cover
A log grabber helps to keep your hand away from the fire when turning logs to lengthen burn time. This particular grabber costs less than $15.
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Epica Fireplace Tongs, 26" Long, Log Grabber
Brighten up your fire
If you want to add a bit of magic to your fire, just throw on a Magic Flames pouch and get a whole range of vibrant colors, from vibrant blues to brilliant greens.
And finally – Some Safe Burning Advice
To finish the article, here are a few bits of advice you should follow when it comes to safe burning. Some of it is pretty rudimentary stuff but still worth repeating:
• Never start a fire with gasoline, kerosene or a charcoal Firestarter. Use newspaper, dry kindling or organic fire starters.
• Don’t burn wet, green unseasoned wood.
• Make sure any flammable items, such as curtains and books, are kept well away from your appliance.
• If using a wood burning appliance, keep the doors closed unless stoking, to prevent carbon monoxide getting into your home.
• Keep a fire extinguisher close to hand at all times.
• Regularly remove ashes into a covered metal container, which should be stored outdoors.
• Do not burn things like household trash, coated or painted wood, rotted and moldy wood, ocean driftwood or wood with glue.
• BURN ONLY DRY, SPLIT AND WELL-SEASONED WOOD